Perhaps greater than any other cultural medium, fashion has given us the tools to define, and redefine, self-expression. Over the years, fearless designers have stepped forward to usher in a new age of personal empowerment. One woman continually pushing the boundaries of the fashion machine is Australian-born costume designer Alabama Blonde.
Raised on the coastal shores of Sydney, Blonde’s unique style began to reveal itself in her 20’s, when she found herself at the center of New York City’s punk-rock scene. Nothing says “raw-expression” quite like punk rock, with its hallmarks of rugged leather, dark make-up, and bone-crushing distortion. It was in her time as a punk rocker that Blonde crafted the signature lace-up leather style that would make her an entertainment industry stand-out.
“I designed these high-waisted, patent leather pants and added three open panels running up each leg to the waistband, however I couldn’t move freely at all,” Blonde recalls. “So I swapped the leather lace-up for elastic lacing and realized that I not only had complete freedom of movement, but so many different body types could wear these pants because they literally molded themselves to the body.”
Blonde would take this revelation back to Australia, and with this fresh inspiration create her “Alabama Blonde” fashion label. Soon after, Blonde’s collection was displayed at the Melbourne Fashion Festival (Sep 2017) and crossed over internationally to be featured at the Re:evolution of Berlin Alternative Fashion Week (Oct 2017).
Riding this wave of success, Blonde’s big break would come when British alternative musician and fashionista FKA Twigs was featured in her garments for the cover shoot of Dazed magazine’s 25th anniversary issue. A new design, the hand-beaded fishnet fabric projected an alluring mix of gentle sensuality and daring attitude, an ethos of expression that echoes through much of Blonde’s work.
“Dressing has always been a form of both armor and expression,” the designer professes. “Style is an unapologetic and nuanced extension of one’s personality– the layers that make up a person from day to day.”
The soul-baring fishnet look caught the eye of industry professionals everywhere, including Phil Gomez, editor-in-chief of LadyGunn magazine and stylist for pop-singer Noah Cyrus. Eager to collaborate, Gomez was ecstatic to procure a similar fishnet outfit for Noah Cyrus to feature on the cover of LadyGunn, an independent publication with an emphasis on music, people, and culture. After several successful partnerships, Gomez affirms his belief that Alabama Blonde delivers creativity that few others can.
“Alabama’s pieces add an authentic, yet classic, rock and roll edge that not a lot of designers have,” Gomez says. “Her designs have their own DNA and I love that!”
Enamored with the buzz surrounding the LadyGunn cover-piece, Gomez took the opportunity to bring Blonde onboard for custom design work for Noah Cyrus, daughter of country music legend Billy Ray Cyrus and sister to pop superstar Miley Cyrus. Blonde was tasked with recreating an iconic Kim Kardashian look for Noah Cyrus’s Halloween costume, and took the assignment with aplomb.
The result was a dazzling minidress of handcrafted chainmail and embroidery that only someone of Alabama Blonde’s talents could render. For the chainmail to drip so gorgeously, immense attention to detail was required for the fit of this dress to be realized.
These pivotal details were appreciated by fans and bloggers alike, with Noah Cyrus being one of the “most searched” style icons of 2020 and fashion blog Pop Sugar listing it as one of the singer’s “Best Looks of 2020,” as well as one of 2020’s “Best Halloween Looks.” Even Kim Kardashian herself, the designer’s inspiration, chimed in with her personal endorsement, announcing on social media, “You guys killed this!”.
Cyrus continued to stoke the fire of the blazing partnership by enlisting Blonde as a costume designer for her music videos, “All Three” and “Dear August.”
“All Three” is a song that uncovers the dark side of codependency and relationships gone wrong. The thematic elements of the lyrics called on Blonde to revisit and revamp the beaded fishnet piece that first brought her acclaim with FKA Twigs.
“The body of the fabric itself was based off of fishnet, a material that catches and captures life, and visually portrays the lyrics and tone of the “All Three,” Blonde says.
The fabric was hand-sewn and hand-embroidered, and covered with intricately placed glass beads that represent tears. The garment’s composition reflects Cyrus’s emotional capacity, the way she exposes herself to her lover, and the weight of this relationship on her heart.
With these details the costume elevates the emotional impact of the artist’s message, with the outfit acting as an amplifier for the music video’s theme. The working knowledge of this subtle yet powerful effect is arguably what has made Alabama Blonde such an indispensable member of any production team.
“Noah shows so much vulnerability in this song,” says Blonde. “The lyrics are very raw and expose the darkness of toxic relationships. I wanted those elements to be reflected in the garment.”
The ensuing video production of “Dear August” presented Blonde with an entirely new set of challenges, taking her out of her comfort zone but ultimately pushing her to grow as a designer. The aesthetic and fabrication required brought new elements to Blonde’s design palette, and with Phil Gomez’s belief and encouragement, the designer was motivated to dive into uncharted territory.
Set in rustic North Carolina in the 1940s, the music video draws inspiration from Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook.” In order to capture the essence of the era, Blonde dove deep, studying the film itself, the time period of the 1940s and the fashion trends that defined the decade, specifically in the state of North Carolina. Researching this project from a historical perspective was a new angle for Blonde, but the process sharpened her penchant for narrative analysis and whet her appetite for more period-pieces in the future.
Blonde says, “The fact that Phil [Gomez] brought me on board for this music video made me realize that ultimately as a designer I want my capabilities to be limitless.”
The production originally called for one design for Cyrus’s character, but when Blonde presented two unique options, the team couldn’t decide between the two, ultimately utilizing both to serve the story as it unfolds.
The first, a champagne two-piece in silk with a ruffle detail at the neckline, plays beautifully with the warm wood tones and rustic vibes of the setting; the second, a baby-blue mini-dress, with an oval opening at the back and a one-leg split with bow details, highlights subtle juxtaposition as the video weaves between verses and choruses, characters and perspectives.
When Blonde is creating a new design, capturing and illustrating the integrity of the story and artist is paramount. The truth and the beauty that comes with her costumes uplifts the artist, and in Cyrus’s case, reinforces the femininity the singer exudes.
“Ultimately Noah [Cyrus] is a tastemaker—there is an edge to her that is balanced by a vulnerable and delicate femininity,” Blonde states. “I love that she is brave enough to tell a story, and then honor that story visually. Everything is authentic and I highly respect that.”
This desire to emphasize authenticity is a standout feature of Blonde’s catalog, an asset that award-winning make-up artist, creative director, producer and frequent collaborator Mynxii White knew would be perfect for her next Schön! Magazine cover story. At the directorial helm of Schön! Magazine #39, and the subsequent fashion film “Gigi Goode,” White chose Blonde’s leather-work to highlight American drag queen and reality television star Gigi Goode’s fearless persona.
Blonde styled the gender-fluid icon in a full-body leather catsuit, a homage to Michelle Pfeiffer’s classic Catwoman costume from 1992’s “Batman Returns,” and a natural extension of Blonde’s trademark lace-up pants. Risque, brave, yet retaining enough modesty to preserve the model’s tenderness, the look was everything the world has come to expect from both Blonde and Goode.
“Alabama has an incredible eye, and her talent is incomparable,” says director Minxii White. “Every look is meticulously executed and no detail goes unnoticed. Her craft is next level, and always brings a unique twist to every project.”
Blonde’s contribution to the cover shoot was met with critical acclaim, and resonated with readers as well; the cover featuring Gigi Goode in Blonde’s leather catsuit became the highest selling digital cover for Schon Magazine Issue #39.
An artist with attitude, vision and the skills to execute, Blonde has built an impressive reputation in the world of costume design. Success after success has led her to be regarded as a true gem of the entertainment industry by colleagues and collaborators. When it comes to costume design, you need a professional that makes you shine. Alabama Blonde is a designer that strives to make others shine brighter.